Greg Fingar may vacate the Columbia County Republican chairman’s seat, and New Lebanon Supervisor Michael Benson may covet his seat cushion, according to three separate (and ideologically-distinct) sources.
Fingar remains in the position for the moment, according to a fourth source familiar with the situation. It is not clear whether Fingar would step down voluntarily, or is coming under pressure to do so.
In addition to serving as the New Leb Supervisor, Benson is president of BCI, one of the Capital Region’s largest and most influential construction firms. The company is known for its uncanny knack for winning bidding wars on public projects, and has done extensive work for government within the County. For example, BCI completed renovations for the Chatham Central School District, and also construction on the City of Hudson’s new wastewater treatment plant.
In addition, BCI built A. Colarusso & Sons’ corporate offices, suggesting that if elevated to Republican chair, Benson perhaps would be sympathetic to mining interests which have been the source of some local controversy in the past.
Earlier this year, a small controversy erupted after nearly 30 underage students were arrested in relation to a drinking party at a New Lebanon home while the parents were traveling. Initial State Police reports didn’t disclose the party details. But it eventually leaked out that it took place at the Bensons’ home—becoming the subject of reports in the Times-Union and elsewhere—after the Town Justice had to recuse herself.
Benson contributed $250 to lobbyist, County powerbroker and former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso’s political action committee in 2001, and has donated similar amounts in the past two years to the Columbia County Republican Committee and Conservative Party. In November 2011, he donated $5,000 the State Republican Committee. All of these donations were made via BCI’s Loudonville Road address in Albany.
BCI Construction itself has donated a total of $17,890 to various political candidates over the past decade, according to New York State campaign finance records. Most of these donations were to Republicans, but a few were to Democrats in places such as Albany and New York City where the politics are heavily Democratic.
Though not necessarily over yet, Fingar’s tenure was colored early on by the intense controversy surrounding his party’s heavyhanded 2009 attempt to disenfrancise absentee voters in the hotly-contested Congressional race between Scott Murphy and Jim Tedisco. At the time, Fingar and Faso joined forces to sic lawyers John Ciampoli Jim Walsh (plus a gumshoe private detective) on second home owners who had legally cast absentee ballots. More recent primaries have brought to light various fissures among factions of the County GOP, which usually presents a monolithic front.
The ballot fracas, which was decided strongly in favor of the voters by fellow Republican judge John Nichols, focused heavily on the small Town of Taghkanic. Their challenges appeared to be backed in part by donations from racetrack developer Alan Wilzig—whose chef and manager Eric Tyree was on the ballot. Funds for the disenfranchisement effort came in part from the County Republican Housekeeping fund (to which Wilzig and a corporation he controlled had donated), a type of political action committee which is not supposed to be used for such purposes according to New York State election law.
At the time, numerous residents who were longtime customers of Fingar Insurance decamped to other insurers in protest, after noticing one of its key partners’ involvement. Ironically, the company’s Columbia County Chamber of Commerce blurb touted its work helping to insure second homes.